Christian Education: Knowing Your Options

Students pictured attend Christian Central Academy in Williamsville, NY. Christian Central Academy enrolls over 420 students from 27 different school districts across three counties. They represent about 90 different churches. Photos by Jennifer Santora
Choosing the right school for your child is no easy task. From homeschooling to private Christian education to public schools, Montessori schools, boarding schools, and everything in between, this single decision will affect your child the rest of his or her life, and the options are plenteous. Choosing the right school will determine the friends they will have, their world view and God-consciousness and faith for years to come. From elementary school up into college, children will spend as much or more time within and around the people at their school, as they will with their parents. Of course as parents, we want our children’s personalities and character influenced by those who will draw them closer to Christ; after all it is our mandate as parents to train them in godliness. While I think we could all agree that ultimately the responsibility to train our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord falls on the parents, would any of us disagree that friends and teachers certainly play an important role? Research by the Barna Group cites staggering statistics that over 70% of our youth are losing faith when sent away to college. It looks bad when we are trying to win the world for Christ but can’t win our own family for him. This truly is a topic that deserves further examination and prayer. From my observation, Christian parents primarily reside in one of three camps, and all have Biblical and practical wisdom behind them. We talked with those living this out on a daily basis to glean from their wisdom and experience.  While the goal of this article is not to endorse one view above another it is an opportunity to take a look at what is out there and make an informed, prayerful and wise decision on the matter. After reading, I would love to hear your thoughts online at www.unitemagazine.us. -Kyle Patterson, UNITE Editor

Homeschooling by Jennifer Santora

     Among the many educational options available to parents in the Western New York area, homeschooling is one that is rapidly gaining in both popularity and acceptance.  Citing a gain of 74% since 1999, the modern homeschooling movement is growing at an astounding rate. 

     As homeschooling continues to gain momentum, many of the old stereotypes and stigmas attached to homeschooling are being put to rest as well.  A recent study revealed that not only do home schooled students (K - 12) on average score 37 points above the national average on standardized achievement tests (HSLDA, 2009), they are also more likely to be politically active within their communities as compared to their traditionally schooled peers. Home schooled children are well developed both socially and emotionally, and are excelling in their occupations.  Colleges are actively seeking out home schooled children and cite that the home school student's tendency to be independent and creative learners, as incentive for recruitment.

     The decision to homeschool is never made lightly.  Homeschooling is, first and foremost, a commitment.  It is a commitment of your time, your money, your patience and occasionally even your sanity but the benefits and rewards greatly overshadow those occasional moments of frustration and fear.  Families venture down the path of homeschooling for a wide variety of reasons.  Every parent has the desire for their child to have the best education possible.  Every family needs to find which educational pathway is right for them.  For some families homeschooling is a strong conviction of their faith, for some it's the desire to offer their child the benefits that come from one on one teaching, for many there are few and/or poor local school options available to them, and for others it is the desire to offer an education that is somehow divergent from what is being offered at the local public school.
Just as the motivations for families to choose homeschooling are wide and varied, so are the curriculum choices currently available to home schooled children.  From traditional workbook based, to literature rich to classical to relaxed, the choices seem unlimited.  For many home schooled children, the opportunity to choose a curriculum which interweaves their faith and beliefs directly into their child's core education is invaluable as is the ability to tailor a curriculum to their child's individual learning style, strengths and interests.  If your child excels in math you can allow them to accelerate at their own pace without having to wait while their classmates catch up.  If they're struggling with writing you can take the time to give them the extra instruction they need.  If they have a passion for ancient China or anteaters you have the liberty and freedom to take a week off from your regularly scheduled instruction to delve deeply into an area of interest.
     Often times when people find out we homeschool they are supportive and encouraging, but adamant that they themselves could never homeschool their own children.  I always tell them that if I can homeschool, anyone can.  I'm far from the most qualified, organized or patient parent; yet when I look at my son, a happy and social child who is thriving academically and well-rounded with a variety of interests, I'm reaffirmed and encouraged in our decision to embark on the homeschool journey.

Why I Homeschooled by Carol McLeod

There were several reasons why we felt that the Lord was leading us to homeschool our children in 1986 - back when the movement was just beginning.
     First of all, we were committed to being the primary influencer on our children's lives.  We believed, and still do believe, that the reason God places a child with a mom and a dad is because that child needs the wisdom and guidance that only parents can give.  We were not ready to give our children to another man or woman, i.e. teacher, for 5-8 hours a day.  We did, however, explore all of our options and went to the orientation that our local public school had for kindergarteners, and investigated local Christian schools.
     We immediately knew that the public school was not going to be a "fit" for our style of parenting.  We were committed to giving our children a Christian world-view which they were not going to be given in the public schools.  From celebrating Halloween, to teaching evolution to liberal sex-education policies, we did not feel comfortable with exposing our child to much of anything that the public school had to offer.  When we were in a conversation with the principle of the highly respected public primary school in our district, he said to me, "You have to remember that the local school system is an institution."  I was not willing to "institutionalize" my 5 year old son.
     We read a book by the Moore's, who were early homeschool pioneers, entitled, "Better Late than Early" and so at first we embraced the mindset that we would send our children to a Christian school in about the third grade but would take it a year at a time.
     After reading several of the Moore's books, I realized that I, as a mom, could do as good as, if not a better job, educating my children than a classroom experience could do.  I certainly had their best interest at heart and could easily become acquainted with their learning styles.
     Also, there was this innate mothering feeling that caused me to think, "Why give him to another woman to enjoy when he is such a joy to me?!"
     Also, I will admit that I had a real vision for educating my children well.  I loved teaching them new vocabulary words and encouraging them to use them appropriately; I loved doing Science experiments as a part of every day life; I desired to raise patriotic children who were fascinated by the leaders who had blazed a trail for America; I loved classic literature and reading aloud to each one.
     Although we were very impressed with several of our Christian school options, we were not able to afford the tuition.
     And so our 23 year homeschool journey began.
Photo By Jenn Santora

Private Christian Education by Deborah White

My advocacy for Christ-centered education is based upon both an outgrowth of long Scripture study*, and my own and my husband’s personal experience in answering this question: If we are followers of Jesus Christ, then how does that commitment, in the light of His Word, impact how we allow the pattern of our thinking - or our “worldview” to develop?  My husband, Dave and I have always believed in, experienced, and been committed to “the integration of faith and learning” and the imperative to do all we can in all areas of our life to promote a Biblical, Christ-centered worldview, first in us individually and then in our children.  We are committed to the position that God’s Word is the final authority for our faith and practice.  Therefore, we could not escape the fact that the imperative of developing a Biblical worldview in our children must include and be reflected in their school environment. 
We knew that the criteria for such a choice had to include more than a school having committed and talented teachers, good principals, great facilities and good rankings.  It was a matter of our children being able to learn, and be taught truth, whether it is the truth about the principles of literature, or the fact that God thought communication was important so He had his authors write His Word, and therefore, He, not just society, values the importance of phonics, reading with comprehension (Acts 8:30-31) and writing, that He designed the beauty and order of geometry and trigonometry to reflect other aspects of His character.  The applications for music and art are limitless. It is to see His logic reflected in biology, to probe the yet-unanswered questions of earth science, to know that it is okay to question and wonder and know that God is not afraid of our questions and even doubt.  It’s to be able to see that “spiritual things” are not, and should not just be thought of as separate and apart from what we, in our woefully limited human understanding, consider to be “academic,” but that the pursuit of rigorous academic study and scholarship can be as much an act of worship as singing praise choruses.  It can be an amazingly freeing environment. 
     Perhaps Colossians 1:16-17 captures for me the incredible majesty of why the educational environment is God’s rightful domain, over which His sovereignty should be proclaimed.  16 “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (NIV) - again, the implications of this statement for education are staggering!
     Where else can a student have the freedom to be taught all this truth but in a school equally committed to the Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ?  How can a student truly have to biggest questions of life answered but in such an environment?
I have been privileged to serve Christ and share this passion about Christ-centered education at Christian Central Academy since we enrolled our oldest child, Dan, in 1993, first as a parent volunteer and then as a staff member beginning in 1998.  Both Dan and our daughter, Laura attended CCA all 13 years and graduated in 2006 and 2009 respectively.   We all fully realize no school is a perfect place.  But over the years as I continue to follow Christian and other private schools in our area, I remain convinced that God is doing something unique and powerful at Christian Central Academy.  Praise Him.

Understanding the Cost of Private Christian Education  by Deborah White and Nurline A. Lawrence of Christian Central Academy

Much of this decision comes down to what is the parents’ perspective of the imperative of Christ-centered education for their child(ren).  Is it viewed as a luxury or as a necessity?  The worldview of the educational system in which one places one’s child or children is the worldview one’s child will be steeped in.  At what grade level has a child had enough education that aims to develop the mind of Christ?  After kindergarten?  After 6th grade?  8th grade?  High school? 
     Any kind of education – whether it is homeschool, public school, secular private school, parochial school, church-related school or independent private Christian school – is going to incur costs to operate.  At any school, teachers and staff must be paid.  Heat and light are expected and so utilities are paid.  Textbooks, supplies and equipment must be purchased.  Facilities must be maintained.  Funds for any school are provided either through property taxes, state and/or federal aid (taxes), church/denominational support, endowment, and/or tuition.   For many private schools, other kinds of fundraising activities also come into play that contribute significantly to each school’s resources. We continue to pray that the Lord will move those who are able to give generously to grasp the vision of Christ-centered education for the next generation and come alongside us through their financial support.   If a private school like CCA is going to be able to offer the level of education and preparation for their children that parents have come to expect, then it cannot be done in a financial vacuum.     
     Third, when the “cost” is the most important consideration, the inherent value of a Christian education in shaping the life of a child is considerably diminished.  It must be regarded as a gift – in the same way that a young lover invests sacrificially in a ring for the beloved – as an expression of worth.    There will always be an expense in obtaining that which one does not yet possess – in this case, a Christ-centered education. 
     Lastly, the word “private” can conjure in the minds of some the idea of exclusivity or elitism.  This is not our desire, aim or objective.  For a school to define itself as “private” simply conveys that it operates under the governance of an entity other than the government. In our case, that takes the form of an independent board of directors which bears the mantle of assuring the school’s fiscal and operational integrity, academic strength and growth, and spiritual guidance and vitality.  Being a private school allows us the freedom to proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and to be Biblically-integrative in all aspects of the curriculum and life of the school.  This we will never compromise.

Public Schools by Erik Ticen

     Home schooling, private Christian school, public school - I think there are strengths to all these options.  In fact, my wife and I know many loving parents who have raised unbelievable Christian kids in each model.  We have wrestled with the pros and cons of each.  But we feel strongly that God has chosen our entire family to be salt and light in our community. We are forming meaningful relationships with parents and teachers constantly: at PTO meetings, rec leagues, neighborhood parties, etc.  Our children have banded together with other Christian kids in their classrooms and we see God working through them every day at school.  We bump into our non-Christian friends out in the community and have had several important discussions with them about the Lord.  Every week we are presented with opportunities to teach our children how to make the right decisions and model for them how to share the Gospel.  We are amazed how bold they are to bring Christ to the classroom.
     I ask, what would happen to our culture if every Christian family abandoned public education?  Are we not commanded to be "in the world but not of it"?  Was David, Jeremiah or the young disciples too fragile to engage?  Our three kids are still very young and I can't say we are the experts in this area.  We are not naive to the dangers out there.  There will be issues to be faced as they get older.  Yet we have complete faith that God is with us as we go out. 

Public Schools Continued by Traci Drake

For the most part public school has been good. My children attend youth group, scouts, and sports where I have control over who they spend their time with. The education they receive for the most part has been as good as they would have received at a Christian school, maybe better in that I have a child who has learning disabilities. The public school has helped him to overcome his difficulties with learning.  I am confident in this as my son is a senior who has excellent grades; he doesn't do anything he doesn't feel is right, has no problem telling people no, and has very conservative values.  My younger two, (12 and 15) seem to be headed in that direction. Both Christian and public schools can be tools in a parent’s arsenal in educating their children, but ultimately, it is the responsibility of the parent to direct their children in the way they should go. To know their children very well, to study them and assist them in becoming the person that God wants them to be. If homeschooling had been possible for us and we didn't need two incomes homeschooling would have been my first choice through middle school.  
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